Louisiana Businesses Devastated By Oil Spill

Mike Frenette, is a charter boat operator in Venice, La., and has fished the coastal waters for nearly three decades. But the oil spill has left Frenette out of work for more than three weeks and his family business, the Redfish Lodge, is empty. Guest host Tony Cox talks to him about life since the spill and the resulting economic distress.

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TONY COX, host:

As we say, the spill has led authorities to completely shut down fishing in several areas along the Louisiana coast and that means putting people out of work. We're joined now by Mike Frenette, who has made a living for 29 years fishing the coastal waters. He owns the Red Fish Lodge in Venice, Louisiana and operates a charter boat. But he hasn't had any business for more than three weeks, obviously. He is barred from fishing in the area and his lodge is empty.

Mike Frenette joins us now. Hello, Mike.

Mr. MIKE FRENETTE (Owner, Red Fish Lodge): Hello, how are you doing?

COX: Well, the question is, how are you doing?

Mr. FRENETTE: Well, it's let's say this is very difficult times right now, from what you just said is absolutely correct. We've been basically out of work for a little over three weeks now. Our waters are shut down not only for commercial fishing, but recreational fishing and that includes charter and guide fishing as well. So, all of our waters are completely shut down as a result of this oil spill.

COX: Now, you heard Professor Steiner and you know that the president is coming to your area on Friday. Obviously what we want everyone wants is for this to be cleaned up so that you can return to normal. But what do you want immediately? What do you need today or tomorrow to be done on your behalf and the other fishermen in the area?

Mr. FRENETTE: Well, you know, at this point, every day creates newer needs and demands more needs, but I mean, certainly what we need is a responsible British Petroleum. We need them to, you know, stand up and take accountability for what's occurred. You know, they have come out from day one and said they're going to make this area whole, that they're going to make the commercial and the charter boat and the guide fishermen whole. And by that, you know, they mean financially whole.

And as of now, we are falling into a deep hole and they're not making us whole. And we cannot seem to get any answers about questions that we have provided them. It's like we're up against a brick wall. And there's absolutely no reason why they can't step up to the plate.

COX: Give us some examples of what you're talking about you would like to be done in other areas.

Mr. FRENETTE: What I mean is that, you know, the needs of the people need to be addressed, the needs of people that are immediately impacted. I mean, we are immediately impacted by this accident. Our businesses are shut down, we're making no income, we have mortgages, we have insurance notes to pay, we have monthly bills that are accruing daily and absolutely no income to come in and compensate for our losses right now.

COX: So, is it a matter of them not providing BP and others, even the government not providing opportunities for you to make money in other areas? Is it that is it a matter of them not providing you of relief for payments that you might not be able to make on your mortgage, on your boat, things of that sort? Are those the day-to-day kinds of assistance that you are looking for?

Mr. FRENETTE: I don't necessarily think that the government needs to step in and compensate us money. It's not their problem, it's BP's problem. They're the ones that are responsible for this accident. They're the ones that are responsible for taking care of the people that are affected in your business.

I mean, this is no different if I were to accidentally drive into the local convenience store front window and shut their business down for a couple days while it's being repaired, I'm going to be responsible for their loss of business. And that's no difference of what BP is doing to us right now. And essentially has completely shut our businesses down.

We've worked hard for 29 years to develop this area, to create this this area is known as the number one fishing industry in the United States, number one recreational destination in the United States, top five in the world. It produces 30 percent of the seafood for the nation. It produces 30 percent of the petroleum for the nation. This is the richest estuary in the country, one of the top estuaries in the world. We cannot afford to lose this as a country, and we're seeing very little results.

I could take you to areas right now, along the delta area where thick crude oil has come in, over a week ago has been announced, has been spotted, has been stipulated to the Coast Guard where all this is, and yet none of the cleanup crews have gone into these areas yet.

COX: Now, we've heard different stories about why that's the case. Let me ask you something else. You talked about the government not necessarily having a responsibility here and yet, the president is coming down. What do you need, if anything, from him?

Mr. FRENETTE: I did not say the government doesn't have a responsibility. I said, I don't look to the government for financial responsibility as a result of this, I look at BP for that. I do look to the government to get actions, to get things done because right now it's the Coast Guard and BP that are supposed to be making the decisions. In fact, the Coast Guard is supposed to be dictating to BP what is being done.

On my hand it looks like BP is dictating to the Coast Guard what they're going to do and what they're not going to do. And that's not what's supposed to be happening. The president needs to come down here tomorrow. He needs to assess the situation. Once he sees exactly what's occurring to this delta and to this region right now, I feel very confident that something will be done because the president of the United States, regardless of who it is, needs to take control of this immediately and get some response, get some cleanup, get this situation under control.

COX: Mike, I have one other question for you. Our time is short. And I want to ask you this, because you survived Hurricane Katrina. You lost everything. You rebuilt. Now here comes this disaster. Can you survive this?

Mr. FRENETTE: You know, that's an unknown right now. We really don't know. We know after a hurricane if you have enough guts and enough desire, you can get plywood, you can get nails and you can rebuild. But we don't know what the future lies right now. We don't we have no idea of the detriment that the dispersants that have been put into the water, what that's going to do to our estuary system, what it's going to do to our ecosystem. We have no information on long-term projections. And I think that's probably the most scary part about this whole ordeal.

COX: Mike Frenette owns the Red Fish Lodge in Venice, Louisiana and operates a charter boat. I don't know what to say to you, Mike, other than good luck and we hope things work out for you. And we appreciate you coming on.

Mr. FRENETTE: Well, I thank you for the opportunity for, you know, letting our voices be heard. And but we're going to make it through this one way or the other. There's very resilient people down here. We just hope that we can pull through.

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